Time for Primary?
By Scott Rothschild
Topeka - Kansas' top election official wants to place Kansans in the voting booth next year so that they can help determine who gets to run for president.
But the question is when would be the best time to hold a presidential primary, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said Tuesday.
"The time is ripe for Kansas to get back in the game," Thornburgh told Senate Republicans during a caucus meeting.
"The $2 million question is when is the best time," he said.
Since it would cost $2 million to hold a primary, state lawmakers say there is no sense spending that kind of money if the proposed Kansas primary has little or no influence on the selection of candidates.
To influence the selection, Kansas must time its primary just right - not too early and not too late, Thornburgh said.
"Going first means the field is still wide. I would rather Kansas be involved in the decision than the winnowing," he said.
He said states in the second wave of contests will probably have a bigger impact on selection of a candidate than the traditional early contests, such as the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, both in January.
But waiting too long could mean that Kansas would have to share a primary on the same day with many other states.
State law previously set the first Tuesday in April as the date of the primary, a date seen as too late.
The state held primaries in 1980 and 1992, but canceled elections planned for 1996, 2000 and 2004, partly because of the cost.
State Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he would like to see a Kansas primary held in conjunction with Kansas Day, which is Jan. 29 and celebrates when Kansas became a state in 1861.
"That would give Kansas Days a kick in the pants," he said.
Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, agreed, and noted it also would help the campaign of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who officially announced his campaign for the presidency last week.
But Thornburgh said some would argue if Brownback is still in the race, few other candidates would campaign in Kansas, conceding the state to its local candidate.
Under current law, the secretary of state can pick a date as long it is tied in with five other states.
A proposal by Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, says if Kansas cannot join a regional primary then it must hold its election Feb. 5.
Thornburgh said Kansas' maneuvering is part of a national trend of states trying to jockey into a better position for presidential primaries.
Many states have complained that Iowa and New Hampshire have too much influence over the selection process.
More than a half dozen states have moved their primaries up to Feb. 5.
- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.